When people are charged with a violent crime, they may be sentenced to spend years in prison or face a number of other penalties. Those who are guilty of committing a crime deserve the punishment given to them by the court. Unfortunately, not everyone convicted of a crime is actually guilty. Flaws in eyewitness identification procedures sent some to prison, even though they are innocent.
Approximately 360 people have been released from prison after DNA evidence testing proved they were actually innocent, according to the Innocence Project. More than 71% of cases involved eyewitness misidentification, where the witness chose the wrong person from an eyewitness lineup and the judge and/or jury went on to convict that person based on the witness’s erroneous identification.
Factors that lead to eyewitness misidentification include the following:
- The lineup administrator may lead the witness to choose a certain person from the lineup
- The lineup is organized in such a way that only one person has characteristics matching the perpetrators
- Long period of time between when the crime occurred and when the witness is asked to choose the perpetrator from the lineup
- Eyewitness’s selective memory and factors, such as environmental constraints, racial differences, lighting and high amount of stress, that can affect the ability to store memory
Some law enforcement departments put standard practices in place to minimize the risk of misidentification. Lineup administrators have no prior knowledge of the case, and are trained to follow a script while conducting the lineup. This includes telling the witness that the suspect may or may not be present during the case. Lineups are organized properly and the entire process is taped for review if necessary.